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Donna Suter is president of Suter Consulting Group.
When you do not have enough money or time, a well-worded post script can be your best friend. Whether you are the new doctor who doesn’t have a large database or the kind-hearted provider who accepts all those low-paying plans and really can’t afford the estimated 60 cents per unit cost of a fall postcard campaign, please consider adding a P.S. to emails and a red-ink P.S. to all patient-directed, routine postal pieces.
Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.
I love post scripts. They allow my internal marketing campaigns to succeed. Harnessing the power of the post script can be a powerful internal marketing strategy targeting patients who have not been seen in a few years.
In marketing articles, this is called database marketing. Marketing to your own database can increase your year-end profits and build your brand as a practice that stresses follow-up care and patient education. (Two important standards to demonstrate as MACRA impacts practice revenue.)
Your patient records contain contact information about healthy eyes that haven’t been seen is over 24-months as well as diabetic, glaucoma, and cataract patients who need your care. This fall, many healthy, diabetic, glaucoma, and cataract patients are in good financial shape to receive and act on your message. Why?
These patient types may have already satisfied their medical deductibles, either through Medicare or private insurers and that portion of their visit will be covered. The patient also wins because a return visit improves their level of care (MACRA). Those still working may also have employer contributions to a health saving account that must be either used or returned by December 31, 2017.
Launching a fall marketing campaign requires your marketing person to think strategically about what I call the 4 T’s of any campaign: target, timing, time, and traffic.
Begin by querying your software to identify and provide names, phone numbers, email addresses, and postal addresses for your target audiences. Your sort criteria might look like this:
Patients must have enough time to respond. Is your telephone-handler prepared to answer questions and squeeze all those that respond into the schedule? If she is off viewing the fall leaves, the patient you have now informed about the importance of returning will typically not leave a message on voice-mail. He or she will hang up and call another practice.
Look at your schedule three weeks from the campaign’s start date. Is the practice open? Are there enough time slots to see these patients? It would be ironic if you raised your patients’ awareness about monitoring their eye health and the year-end financial reasons to act and the practice was so busy that your competitors were now seeing your patients.
Another element of this type of campaign that is time sensitive is generating the lists. Don’t frustrate your office manager or employees by asking for a list of patients that your software cannot easily generate. (A mailhouse can typically walk you through getting your address list into a viable file format and the upload process.) Mailhouses will ask for one of the following file formats and extensions:
Don’t stop reading, get overly ambitious and fire off letters to ten groups of disease-specific patients. You may wind up overwhelming your staff and disappointing patients who are calling. Shoot for no more than a 20% increase in patient volume. Remember, excellence is patient care and caring is what creates a patient for life.
By carefully orchestrating your staff man-hours and your resources, you can manage the increased patient flow without everyone feeling like burned-out air traffic controllers the week of Thanksgiving.
Applying the preferred communication principle to your fall marketing campaign
A three-pronged outreach program is strongly recommended. The number of channels you can use to communicate with your patients has expanded from last century’s outbound phone calls or letters and continues to grow with each passing year. If you aren’t already using digital channels to communicate to your patients, please do so. According to MarketingSherpa and other digital channel research sites, email sent with permission of the target audience holds its own.
What does that mean to your office and your fall marketing campaign? Yes, a letter or a postcard sent through the postal service must be part of your channel mix. However, I also recommend email and telephone reminder. If you do not have the staff for a telephone reminder and have faithfully collected cell phone numbers, replace a human telephone reminder with a text.
I do not suggest an automated phone call urging the listener to call your office to make an appointment.
Eyecare practitioners that are limiting office-to-patient communication to text and email blasts are ignoring decades of research and isolating themselves from their key target market. That market is women. Of particular importance to an eyecare practice are older women. Women, regardless of age, are the reason the phone rings and people keep appointments.
A quick internet search of the phrase Role of women in healthcare decisions shows headlines placing the importance of a female influence in the healthcare decision-making process to be as high as 80%.
MarketingSherpa commissioned a study in 2015 and asked American adults about their channel preferences…There was, as you would expect, variations on channel preferences among different demographic groups.
For example, 64% of those 55+ preferred postal mail, and 41% in that cohort preferred print media, while 38% of people ages 18-54 preferred postal mail, and 24% preferred print media.
The only exception (not preferring email) was females 65 or older - 64% prefer email, and 65% prefer postal mail.
Yes, you will have to work with employees to prioritize tasks and perhaps re-assign duties. Reaching out via postal mail and then with a human making a phone call to “make that appointment now” is time consuming.
The ROI (return on investment) of a 10,000-piece campaign can be staggering. Compared with just social media advertising, research suggests it will cost five times more to ‘capture’ a new patient than it will be to motivate a judiciously-curated group of 10,000 established patients to return for follow-up care.
P.S. When low-cost is your only option
When you do not have enough money or time, a well-worded post script can be your best friend. Whether you are the new doctor who doesn’t have a large database or the kind-hearted provider who accepts all those low-paying plans and really can’t afford the estimated 60 cents per unit cost of a fall postcard campaign, please consider adding a P.S. to emails and a red-ink P.S. to all patient-directed, routine postal pieces. (A customized stamp of your well-worded ‘P.S.’, purchased from a big-box office supply store, will work.) That’s using the power of the post script message with minimal investment.
The P.S is one of those clichés of copywriting I learned last century at UGA’s Journalism School. Maybe you think it’s outdated. Maybe you think it’s unnecessary.
That is, until you experience the logic of why it works.
So, before we get into the weeds, do me a favor. Say the following words quickly, and then look away from the screen for a moment when you’re done reading the list.
Okay, did you do the exercise?
Before you keep reading, which words do you remember?
It doesn’t matter how good or bad your memory is.
If you’re not using your crazy-good, pass-that-test, short-term memory abilities, you, like most people, remembered clipboard. And baby. And macula.
Clipboard was the first word, so it stuck.
As your brain struggled to remember the other words, it hit Puppy, which was not like all the others. Again-it stuck in your memory.
The last word was Macula. The average brain is frazzled with trying to pay attention to so many words. Your very human brain may have gone into auto-pilot and remembered the first, the last, and the unusual.
Whether face-to-face or from the communication outlet of your choice, you now know the answer, don’t you? And since your patient database tend to be people, what do you think they are going to remember?
That, my friend, is why the P.S. is so vital. Because the patient is almost certainly going to read the P.S., no matter what else they read (or skip).
What should the P.S. contain?
Well, in effect, the P.S. is simply a summary of what your fall campaign is all about. Your post script needs to contain the following in as few words as possible:
Not only does the P.S. do the vital job of summarizing, but because it’s the last thing that’s read, it’s also one of the three things that your patients remember.
Still want to leave the P.S. out of your end-of-year communication pieces? Go buy that red stamp before you forget!
1. 2015 Marketing Chart: How do customers want to communicate? Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS Institute https://www.marketingsherpa.com/article/case-study/customer-communication-by-channel